Allama Mashriqi and the Khaksar Tehrik
Dedicated to the Khaksar Martyrs of March 19, 1940
By Nasim Yousaf
The freedom of the Indian sub-continent (now comprised of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) did not come easy. Its foundation is built on the blood of the Khaksars as well as Allama Mashriqi’s teenage son, who were killed in the struggle for independence. Mashriqi, his immediate, family, and the Khaksars made immense sacrifices and faced ruthless actions from the British in their fight to liberate the people of the subcontinent. Sadly, the Governments of India and Pakistan have thus far failed to recognize Allama Mashriqi and his followers’ fight against the British Raj.
Allama Mashriqi was a born genius who had record-breaking academic achievements at the University of Cambridge. He became Under Secretary of Education in India when he was only 29 years old and was offered Ambassadorship and Knighthood at age 32. Mashriqi’s book, Tazkirah, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature by learned individuals from India and Europe (including Sahibzada Aftab Ahmed Khan [Vice Chancellor of Aligarh University], Professor Maison of France, Dr. Hayden [“Al-Islah” August 30, 1935], Sir Abdul Qadir, and Sir Fazal Hussain). And Mashriqi was inducted into the most prestigious scholarly societies of Europe.
For Mashriqi, it would have been incredibly easy to lead a life of comfort and luxury. Instead, he chose to fight the British Raj and face all consequences in order to liberate the people of the sub-continent. In 1930, he laid the foundation for the Khaksar Tehrik (also known as the “Khaksar Movement,” “Private Army,” or “Army of Spades”) to bring independence to the nation. Joining Mashriqi in this mission were his immediate family as well as Muslims and non-Muslims of the sub-continent.
The Khaksar Tehrik became a phenomenon that swept the masses in India. By 1940, the membership of the Tehrik had expanded to four million Khaksars in India alone. The Tehrik continued its rapid growth during the 1940s and, according to Al-Islah (December 01, 1946), it had five million Khaksar soldiers by the end of 1946. In a short period of time, Mashriqi had created the largest and most disciplined private army in the history of the Indian sub-continent. It is nearly unfathomable that a private citizen could create an army with such a large following without the support of a conventional military academy and modern resources such as the internet, social media, etc. Clearly, Mashriqi had struck a cord and his message resonated deeply with the masses. His followers had put aside worldly attractions and dedicated their lives to freedom.
In support of the Tehrik’s mission, the Khaksars traveled all over India – from Kolkata to Karachi (east to west) and from Srinagar to Mysore (north to south). They even used their own funds. The Janbaz Khaksars had signed pledges that they would not hesitate to give their lives for freedom. Khaksar activities in support of freedom included mock-wars (including the use of cannons, guns, spades, etc.), parades in uniform, and public displays of martial splendor. The military power of the Khaksar Tehrik became clear to the British when Mashriqi paralyzed the Government of the U.P. in 1939, formed a parallel Government, and issued currency. Such moves as well as the Khaksar Tehrik’s military might and revolutionary activities shook the pillars of colonial rule in India.
It was at this juncture that the British rulers began talking to selected Muslim and non-Muslim leaders who the British felt would work with them and not pose a threat to their rule. In parallel, the Government took every conceivable measure to try to overpower Mashriqi and the Khaksar Tehrik – from bans and restrictions to threats and imprisonment to the brutal killing of Khaksars, including a ruthless massacre on March 19, 1940 in Lahore. The British rulers were so anxious about Mashriqi and the Khaksars that they tried to squash the Khaksar identity by imposing bans on Khaki uniforms, badges, armbands, spades, and the Tehrik’s flag. Anti-Mashriqi elements tried to portray Mashriqi as a kafir (infidel), fanatic, or a fascist dictator. Of course these allegations were completely untrue. Mashriqi and the Khaksars proved to be quite resilient in the face of the opposition and altered their strategies as needed to counteract the bans or restrictions against them.
As the Khaksars continued to thrive, anti-Khaksar efforts became more and more desperate. In 1943, a plan was hatched to try and defame Mashriqi. Per the plan, Muslim League Leader Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was attacked and the attacker was immediately (falsely) alleged to be a Khaksar. Although Jinnah received only a minor injury, the attack was publicized widely to try to discredit the Khaksars. But this conspiracy to undermine Mashriqi backfired when Justice Blagden of the Bombay High Court rejected that there was any evidence to show that the assailant was a Khaksar (this fact is deliberately omitted in books and articles). Despite the court’s ruling, the hostility against Mashriqi continued. During the 1945-46 elections, the bureaucracy ensured that candidates on the Khaksar Tehrik’s ticket did not win the election.
In spite of all the actions against them, Mashriqi, his family, and the Khaksars never gave-up and remained fully focused on their mission; they were in the midst of a full coup and takeover of the Government when the British wisely decided that they had no choice but to relinquish power. Thus, on February 20 1947, Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that the British would quit India and transfer power. However, before departing the country, the British partitioned the nation in two based on the Two-Nation theory (which the British had supported for their own interests) and hurriedly transferred power to their favored Muslim and Hindu leaders (to form Pakistan and India as separate countries).
Thereafter, the history of Pakistan and India has been written from the perspective of those who were the recipients of the transfer of power. Rather than seeking the truth behind partition, historians have instead taken partition as inevitable; they’ve focused on justifying division and glorifying the leaders who were the beneficiaries of the transfer of power. The perspective and sacrifices of Mashriqi and others who were advocating for a united, independent India have been buried. And Mashriqi, his family, and the Khaksars have been vilified or ignored in the history books and the educational syllabus.
Fabricated stories and articles against Mashriqi, his family, and the Khaksars continue to appear in the media, books, and scholarly journals even today. Mashriqi’s role in history has been diminished, despite all the evidence to the contrary; any serious study of British India’s independence would show that, without Mashriqi and his private army of Khaksars, the British would never have felt compelled to abandon their rule. The Governments of Pakistan and India should realize that those leaders who held talks with the British or were the recipients of a transfer of power in 1947 were not the only champions of independence. Their efforts were built on the fight and public drive for freedom directed by Mashriqi and the Khaksars. Both the Indian and Pakistani Governments should rise above the unfair bias against Mashriqi and properly incorporate the crucial role of Allama Mashriqi, his family, and the Khaksars into the educational curriculum of the two nations.